Wednesday, February 1, 2012

End of Chapter 2 of Father Lucifer, a novel in progress, is up

Father Lucifer,  End of Chapter 2:

Gayle arrived looking terrified and excited, like anyone starting a job they have big hopes for and really need. I introduced her to Breit. He stared a hole in her shirt while he emphasized that everything on the menu was to be called only by the godawful obscene name he'd given it.


This process is being quite an education for me in some different and interesting ways.  Right now I'm editing material from a proposal that I finished in early 2006, scraping some of the not-quite-right-anymore slang off and doing a lot of condensing.  The condensing is where I'm learning things -- it's routine work I've done in the book-doctoring gig for ages but usually each section is something like my characteristic length of 3500 words (actually about 3100-3700, but the average is very close to 3500; for more about characteristic lengths, see this piece and just keep reading. ).  I'm finding that I'm getting the hang of a technique for packing a characteristic "next to last draft" short-medium scene of  3500 words into a characteristic "final" scene of 2300.  This involves many interesting dynamics but I think really works wonders for the scenes.

One reason the scenes got so long was the creation by committee process; the two later drafts that I abandoned, reverting to the first one with reasonably well-developed characters, were attempts to get things through my agent's review process.  He likes cerebral detectives and is always a bit queasy about the type that simply find someone who knows something and beat the shit out of him till he tells them something.  

Scene I have always wanted to read: 

"So, Watson, I see nothing of significance in Dr. Attlee's trouser cuffs, the stains on his shirt, or the trim of his hair."  
"Well, Holmes, are we stymied, then?" 
"Not a bit, dear fellow!  If you will begin sharpening your excellent scalpel, and perhaps heat it a bit in the lamp, I shall remove Dr. Attlee's clothing and tie his knees apart, and then with simple procedure I believe -- why, Dr. Attlee, you appear to wish to tell us something.  Let us remove your gag."

One of many inspirations for Hal Dimmesdale was what I thought a reasonable question: what if Archie Goodwin had despised Nero Wolfe, which I always thought would have made a great deal more sense?  Or what if Mike Hammer had had Archie Goodwin's job?

But I was trying to run this idea through a whole Wolfe pack at my agent's office, and every time I did a draft, the complaints multiplied, because people wanted Breit to be attractive, and eventually lots of scenes that should have been at shorter lengths had swollen to 3500s.  (Which is probably my favorite scene length of all).  And now, as I delightedly mow back the mess, and various scenes shrink to better lengths, Breit returns in all his slack-jawed-gaping-at-women's-chest-ed-ness, Hal can honestly loathe him, and I'm still having fun.  I hope you few but increasing followers are too.